Babine pressed the bell one more time and waited, rocking slowly on her heel. She was so nervous and was slightly dreading seeing him again.
She had replayed the scene over and over in her head when she got in yesterday and for the life of her she couldn’t seem to regard it as nothing like she’d suggested to him.
The door was thrown open and he stood before her. “Hi, please come in.” His face held a slight awkwardness and she smiled at him, trying to create an easy air between them. They would need that if this project was to go on.
“About yesterday”, he began. “I really shouldn’t have. I had no right to do so.”
“Its alright”, she turned, a smile playing on her lips and bumped into him. She hadn’t realized he was walking so close behind her. He reached out to steady her.
“Look what happened was unexpected and unplanned. I didn’t plan on kissing you when I set out to drop you. Like you said, it just happened.”
Babine was prevented from replying by the sound at the door. A key turned at the mouth and they both turned in time to see the door open and Ava step in.
The smile died on her lips as she slowly took in the scene before her. Allen dropped his hands, but it was a bit too late from the look on the other girl’s face.
“What’s going on here?” She asked stonily, glancing from one to the other.
“Ava, hi”, Allen walked towards her. “You remember Babine, right, from the quarantine center?”
“Yes, I remember her”, she replied, her expression still wooden. “But what is she doing here?”
“She’s here to do a self portrait on me.”
“I see.” Ava replied calmly, but the look she cast Babine’s way told her she didn’t. “And why is this portrait being done in your home? Why not at her studio or wherever the hell it is artists work?”
“Because the background matters”, Babine spoke up, seeing as Allen was dallying. He also had a guilty look on his face and anyone would think Ava had worked in on a steamy scene of them in bed or something. “The client can decide to pick a more comfortable and suitable background if they so desire.”
Ava fixed her with a dirty stare, the rancour she felt towards Babine evident on her face. Babine met the other girl’s gaze unflinchingly. Other than the previous night – which hadn’t been instigated by her – she hadn’t done anything to feel guilty about.
The other girl suddenly decided she wasn’t worth her time and turned her gaze to Allen. “I want her out of here”, she said like Babine wasn’t there or was inconsequential “I’m not comfortable having my boyfriend holed up with a girl in his house, no matter the occasion”.
“You are being paranoid, Ava”, Allen replied. “We are not holed up here, like you put it. Babine is here in the capacity of an artist to get my portrait drawn.”
“Still, this doesn’t sit well with me”, Ava insisted, her features still taunt from the anger she was feeling. “I still want her gone.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that”, Allen replied. “She also my guest and telling her to leave would be the height of rudeness.”
“She’s your guest! So what am I?” Ava spat. “What sane girl do you think would be comfortable with this arrangement?!”
“You are uncomfortable with it because you are misreading things”, Allen replied calmly, but he was also losing it. “As usual you are over-reacting.”
“You think! Try catching me in a compromising situation with some guy and see how you would feel about it! Over-reacting, my arse! I want her gone- if she doesn’t leave, I will!”
“What compromising situation are you talking about!” Allen was exasperated. “If you’d walked in on something other than Babine and I being civil like two normal people I’d have understood your tantrum. But this…….this is over-reacting pure and simple!”
“Call it what you like”, Ava cried out,her arms folded across her chest and her form still rigid from being mad. “But she still has to leave!”
“Well, she’s my guest and she’s going nowhere.”
Babine watched the lovers spat, deciding she’d had enough. “Look, you guys don’t have to fight on my account. I’ll leave.”
“At least she has some sense”, Ava muttered under her breath, a little of the anger dissipating.
“You will do no such thing”, Allen countered, ignoring the venomous eyes Ava turned on him as she re-directed her anger at him. “You are here for a job and that you will stay to do. If Ava here can’t be an adult about this whole thing, then she can leave. I’ll call her later when she’s calmer and more reasonable so we can talk.”
“No, I should leave”, Babine replied quickly, seeing Ava about to go into an angry tirade. “The project isn’t running away…..we can always finish up later.”
“If you insist on leaving, then I’ll leave with you”, Allen said, going to pick up his keys from where he’d dropped it. “Common. I’ll drop you off.”
Babine stood rooted still, not sure how to proceed. Ava looked like she was about to explode and Allen was fast approaching the door, his strides made longer by being mad.
He turned at the door when he realized Babine wasn’t following. “Are you coming or what?”
Babine quickly regained herself and without a glance at Ava, ran along to catch up with him.
* * *
Babine didn’t turn up the next day. A slight glitch came up with another client and she had begged Allen for the day off, promising to make up for it the next day.
True to her words, Babine left home earlier the next day and took a cab. She wanted to get there in record time so they could cover more ground.
A short distance away from the house the car broke down. The driver went to work trying to rectify the fault, but the car wouldn’t budge. He got out and went to the bonnet which he opened.
“Aunty, e be like say my engine don over heat o”, he announced, leaning from under the bonnet. “I go need to call mechanic”.
“Overheat?” Babine echoed. “So what will happen now? How long will it take for the mechanic to come?”
“I no too sure but e fit reach like two hours.”
“Two hours! For ordinary engine over heating?” Babine asked aghast. “I don’t have that time naa.”
“Aunty sorry o, no mind all these cars. Na so them they misbehave.”
“But why didn’t you check it before we started”, Babine complained, unhappy as she saw her plans to get to her destination early fading before her eyes. She was very close to Allen’s house, and wondered if she shouldn’t cover the remaining distance on foot. The sun was yet to fully come out and she would make it in record time without that much stress.
“Oga, don’t worry, let me continue from here”, she announced, coming out of the car. “Here’s your fee.”
“Ah, thank you aunty”,he collected the money. “And aunty sorry o. I for like drop you before o. Na this car wey just dey disgrace person.”
Babine nodded and set out. The path the driver took wasn’t the regular road, but she remembered Allen had taken this route once or twice when the main road had been congested with traffic. It was a bit deserted, but it wasn’t a long route.
She adjusted her handbag and decided to count to a hundred to make the journey go faster. If she got to hundred and she wasn’t there yet she would start all over.
She contemplated calling Allen to inform him she might be a bit late, but decided to hold on. It was possible she could still make it within the time they’d agreed on.
A sound came not too far behind her and she turned to see a guy also walking along the path. He looked rough and she was wary of him and suddenly questioning her decision to take this lonely road. She was very close to her destination, just a street or two away so she quickened her steps, turning back occasionally to see if the guy was still behind. He still was.
Not too long afterwards, he was joined by another shady-looking guy, where this one had come from, Babine had no idea. All she knew was one minute when she turned there was just a guy and the next they’d become two. She began to worry. They were the only ones on that road and she still had the whole of that street to go through before they would see any sign of life of activity.
A hand suddenly touched her shoulders and she started, becoming rooted to the spot.
“I’m sure you know we are following you”, one of the guys said in perfect english. They were now at pace with her and came to stand in front of her.
“Do I know you?” Babine asked, trying to keep the fear she felt from her voice. “What do you want?”
“We want to deliver a message”, the second replied. “And the message is this :’stay away from people’s boyfriends.’ “
The message was accompanied by a slap, the force of it was so powerful Babine fell. She held her cheek where it stung, her eyes watered as she stared up at the guys, but they obviously weren’t through yet. Babine watched in horror as they leaned over her, throwing punches that caused a thousand pains to go through her.
She curled up in a fetal position, subconsciously trying to protect herself from the blows, but that didn’t work as the blows just seemed to descend one after the other. No part of her anatomy was spared. She felt her head would explode as a kick connected to it. She groaned at the pain, silently begging them to let her be, but it continued.
All of a sudden the beatings stopped and she heard footsteps as they took off in a run.
She didn’t know how long she laid there, but she knew she had to do something or she would be there for God knew how long. Groaning as her whole body ached in pain, she crawled the few feet to where her bag had fallen at the first slap and slowly retrieved her phone, hitting speed dial one.
“Hello”, Simone’s voice sounded at the other end.
“Simone……….help”, she moaned, before passing out.